The Divine Life in Man


EVERYONE ADMIRES A HERO. We are all thrilled by the courage or the man who faces the danger of death without flinching. We are impressed, too, by the man who refuses to be defeated by difficulty, disease or disaster. We like the man who does not weep in the face of trouble, or run away from responsibility. We know that life is not all peaches and cream. We know that every life must weather its share of storm and stress; and so we respect those who are strong enough to oppose difficulty with strength, danger with courage, and death without fear.

IT IS THE VIRTUE of fortitude which enables men to overcome difficulty in the pursuit of good. Fortitude is the virtue which moderates the powers of the irascible appetite of man. Imagine for a moment the problem faced by a soldier in the midst of battle. He is comparatively safe in his foxhole, but his friend is lying wounded on the open ground fifteen feet in front of him; he wants to rescue him, but he is afraid he will be killed himself. In the face of these two dangers, the danger to his friend and the danger to himself, he becomes angry at the enemy and then he becomes daring. He decides to rescue his friend. But how shall he do it? Let us say that he has only two ways of trying to do it. He can run across the fifteen feet, pick up his friend and run back; or he can crawl slowly over the fifteen feet, take hold on his friend and crawl slowly back, dragging his friend with him. It is more daring to dash out and back; but it is more likely that he himself will be killed, for he will present a better target to the enemy. It is less daring to crawl out, but the slowness of this method will require greater self-control. He will die a thousand deaths as he inches his way forward; but he will be more likely to succeed this way. Summoning all the strength of his soul and body, he crawls out and drags his friend back to safety.

NOW, IN PERFORMING this act of courage, this act of heroism, the soldier needed the virtue of fortitude to direct the actions of the passions of fear, anger and daring. If fortitude had not curbed the power of his fear, he would never have attempted the rescue at all. If anger at the evils he faced had not roused him, he would never have been daring enough to make the attempt. But if his anger had been too strong, his daring would also have been excessive, and he would have thrown caution to the winds and rushed out screaming defiance at the enemy and he himself would have been killed. Fortitude curbed both his anger and his daring and directed them prudently to the best method of rescuing his friend. Briefly, we might way that without fortitude, either the passion of fear would have made him fail his friend, or the passion of excessive daring would have made his attempted rescue a failure. Without fortitude either he would not have tried at all, or he would have tried badly and so failed.

FORTITUDE IS THE VIRTUE which directs the movements of the passions of the irascible appetite---especially the passions of fear and daring---in the face of a good that is difficult to achieve. The intellectual virtues perfect human reason in the pursuit of both speculative and practical truth. Justice perfects the human will in the field of human relations. Temperance perfects the will by moderating the tendencies of the concupiscible appetite and subjecting them to the rule of reason. Fortitude perfects the will by removing the obstacles which fear and daring raise in the pursuit of good.

FORTITUDE IS CONCERNED with the pursuit of good in the face of danger, but the greatest danger to man in this world is the danger of death. Fortitude, then, is concerned especially with the fear of death. If a man is ready to die in the pursuit of moral good, then certainly he is ready to face any lesser danger in the same pursuit. The man who is ready to die for his faith in God, is certainly ready to face the loss of his money or imprisonment for the same good.
As WE HAVE SEEN ABOVE in the story of the soldier who rescued his friend, courage---or fortitude---is not irrational. It is a virtue, a moral virtue. It must be directed by reason, by the virtue of prudence. It is right reason which tells a man that he must endure bodily evils---even death---rather than lose his soul. It is true prudence which tells a man that he must endure the Martyrdom of death rather than give up his faith in God or Christ. It is reason also that tells a man when his daring is excessive and foolhardy and unlikely to succeed. It is true prudence which tells a man who cannot swim that he should not jump into a turbulent ocean to rescue a drowning man. Fortitude, like all the other virtues, follows the mean of reason. It pursues the right path between excessive fear and excessive daring; it is neither the cowardice of the timid and fearful, nor the foolhardiness of the reckless and inexperienced. It is the sure strength of the virtuous, rational man. It gives a man the strength to endure pain and even death, when they cannot be avoided; it gives him power to face danger and overcome it, when it can be overcome.

THE MOST PERFECT ACT of fortitude is Martyrdom---the sustaining of bodily suffering and death for faith in God and Christ. Because of his faith in God, the Martyr is not only ready to die rather than give up his belief in God, but he actually does give up his life for his faith in God. His Martyrdom is the final proof of his great love for God. "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John XV, 13.)

THE ENEMIES OF FORTITUDE are cowardice, fearlessness and daring. Cowardice is an inordinate, an excessive fear of death. Through cowardice a man refuses to endure what right reason tells him he should endure rather than lose the moral good he should pursue. It is cowardice which makes a man deny his God rather than suffer or lose his life. It is cowardice which induces a married couple to practice illegal birth control rather than suffer the restraint of continency or the danger of suffering or death. When cowardice leads a man to shun his serious obligations,
it is a mortal sin.

FEARLESSNESS is also opposed to true fortitude. The fearless man---as we are now speaking of fearlessness---is the man who rushes into danger without measuring either the danger, his own strength, or the chances of success. Such a reckless disregard of danger is due either to pride, or a lack of love or understanding. The man who does not love his life as much as he ought will rush into danger because he does not care what happens; it is carelessness, not courage, which influences him. The proud man, overestimating his own strength, cannot conceive of any danger he could not overcome; it is not courage, but vainglory, which actuates him. The dull or stupid man walks into danger without knowing where he is going; it is ignorance, not courage, which moves him. In all these cases we find, not true fortitude, but a cheap imitation of it, founded on an inability to love, an excessive love of one's own excellence, or a lack of intelligence.

EXCESSIVE DARING is also a sin against fortitude. When a man is excessively daring, he rushes into danger without taking counsel either with himself or with others. He measures neither the extent of the danger nor his own strength. His actions are not directed by right reason or prudence; hence, even if he is successful, his acts are not virtuous. They lack the direction of right reason, and therefore are not truly acts of fortitude; on the contrary, because they lack the moderation of reason, they are sinful.
LIKE THE OTHER CARDINAL VIRTUES, fortitude has other virtues which are related to it. Fortitude itself is concerned with the fear of death. But there are many other lesser fears which plague men in this life. There must, therefore, be virtues to moderate these fears also. The virtues which strengthen men in the face of evils or dangers less than the danger of death are magnanimity, magnificence, patience and perseverance.

MAGNANIMITY is the virtue which enables men to do great things. Now a human act may be great in either of two ways: it may be great in relation to some particular person, or it may be simply a great thing in itself. If a poor widow with only five dollars to her name gives it to a neighbor for medical care, she does something which is very small in itself, but which is very great in relation to herself and to her circumstances. If a man, such as George Washington, devotes his time, his brilliant talents and his possessions to the liberation and development of his country, what he does is great not only in relation to himself, but it is simply and absolutely great. The virtue of magnanimity is concerned chiefly with things that are great, absolutely and simply. Because great deeds usually bring great honor to a man, magnanimity is concerned with great honors. The magnanimous man tends to do things that are deserving of great honor.
WE MUST NOT, however, make the mistake of confusing the magnanimous man with the vain man. The vain man seeks honor among men simply for the sake of honor; or he seeks honor beyond what is due to him; or he seeks honor for what is not really honorable. Magnanimity is a virtue, and it is concerned with the best use of the greatest things. The magnanimous man does great things for God, or for the benefit of his fellowmen. He seeks honor not so much for himself and in the eyes of men as for God and in the eyes of God. Because he loves God and men, he dares to do great things for God and men.

THE MAGNANIMOUS MAN is a man of confidence, assurance and, usually, wealth. He is a man of great hope, and this gives him confidence. He is a man of fortitude, and this frees his mind from fear and gives him assurance. Wealth is not absolutely necessary for magnanimity, but there is no doubt that it is a great help. The wealthy man can easily accomplish great things by means of his riches, power and friends.

THE VICES OPPOSED to magnanimity are presumption, ambition, vainglory and pusillanimity. The presumptuous man is one who seeks to do great things that are beyond his powers. Presumption is a vice because the actions prompted by it lack the prudent direction of right reason. The ambitious man---naturally, we are speaking of the vice of ambition---is one who wants honor for its own sake alone, or looks for recognition and honor when he has done nothing to merit them. The vainglorious man wishes to be honored for something that is not honorable, or he seeks honor from men alone. Vainglory is a capital vice that leads to disobedience, boasting, hypocrisy, quarreling, obstinacy, discord and a restless search for new and novel ways of exciting admiration. Pusillanimity is a vice that leads a man to refuse to do what is really possible to him.
MAGNIFICENCE is the virtue which enables men to make something which is great. It is magnificence which enables a man to give several million dollars for the erection of a public hospital, library or university. Because it is concerned with making great things, magnificence requires great expenditure of money. It is related to fortitude because it is concerned with something difficult. It is difficult to build a large hospital, and it is difficult for a man to part with several million dollars. But magnificence is a lesser virtue than fortitude because it deals, not with the fear of death, but with the loss of one's own property.
MEANNESS is the vice opposed to magnificence. The mean man---as St. Thomas uses the term here---is the man who tries to make something great but with insufficient means. The mean man, for example, tries to build a million dollar hospital with a half million dollars. He always wants to get more for his money than it will buy. He is the type of employer who will always underpay his employees.
PATIENCE is the virtue which enables man to endure hardship in the pursuit of good. Hardship is always an evil to man. It causes sorrow, and might make a man forsake the pursuit of good in order to banish his sorrow. The husband whose wife is seriously ill for a long time may be tempted to drown his sorrow in alcohol or the affection of another woman. He needs the virtue of patience to enable him to bear his sorrow without failing in virtue.

PERSEVERANCE is the virtue which enables a man to endure delays in the attainment of good. A man wants to save money to pay for an expensive operation to restore sight to his son, but it takes him a long while to save the money, and every so often some unexpected expense delays him even more. It is perseverance which enables him to endure the delays until he accomplishes his desire.

SOFTNESS---St. Thomas calls it effeminacy---and pertinacity are opposed to perseverance. Softness is a vice that makes a man ready to forsake any good intention when difficulties arise. Pertinacity is a vice that makes a man cling to his own opinion and judgment long after facts have shown that he is wrong. The soft man has no perseverance at all. The pertinacious man perseveres in his wrong course of action even after right reason shows that he is wrong.
OF COURSE, the highest kind of perseverance is perseverance in the pursuit of God. For this reason God has given men, through grace, the gift of fortitude. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit which enables man to persevere in moral good until he attains the vision of God. The Holy Spirit infuses into man's mind a confidence that through the grace of God he will win through to Heaven.

EVERYONE with any experience of life knows the great need men have for the virtue of fortitude and its related virtues. Life is not easy; good is not accomplished without difficulty. Perseverance in good is a tremendous trial of man's strength, but only the brave deserve the prize. The kingdom of Heaven is won by violence, that is, by strength. Only the heroes of this life can find the happiness of heaven. The secret of heroism is fortitude, and the secret of fortitude is love. When a man has a great love of good---the moral good---then he can find the strength to be brave in the pursuit of good.